scottish history
A service from

One, Two, Three

The Highland Clearances

Scottish Origins... up to William Wallace

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

Battle of Falkirk & Execution of Wallace

History of the Kilt

Patrick Geddes

Tragedy at Glencoe


The Battle of Falkirk (1298) and the Execution of Wallace.
Chapter Two: The Battle

One, Two, Three
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Led by Earl Marshal, the first English column came rapidly on; but not having reconnoitred the ground, their leading files rolled into the morass, where horse and man, the English and Gascon alike, were exposed to the arrows of Scottish (short or regular bow) archers. After some damage, the English advance swerved a little to the left, found firmer ground, closed their files, and charged.

Wallace had never before faced such an army, or fought a large battle without a natural defence. Here was no river, no narrow bridge to halt an armoured charge, and he may have sensed this was the end, for he made no great exhortation, but spoke simply and bluntly to his spearmen.

William Wallace talking to his men
[Wallace talking to
his men]
"Now" , exclaimed Wallace, with pleasant confidence, to his soldiers, " I haif brocht ye to the ring -- hop (dance) gif ye can!",
and at that moment the heavily-mailed English cavalry of the first line fell with a tremendous shock on the charged spears of the schiltron units of the Scots.

Before Edward could fully deploy his army the impatient young bloods of the English chivalry, anxious to prove themselves, charged the Scottish schiltrons. They failed to break the well-disciplined Scots; but they slew the bowmen caught in the open between the formations.

Galloping into the marshland, the horses slowed down. The majority of the English horsemen then wheeled to the left and right and rode around the swamp, hitting the Scots in the rear.

The shock of the battle scattered the Scots horsemen and the English now plunged amid their foot-soldiers. The bows of the Scots that had not been silenced, had little power to penetrate the partial-plate and mail armour of the English heavy cavalry. They were quickly dispatched by the now charging English horsemen. But the Scots spearmen held firm. Their rope and stake entanglements tripped the English horses: knights crashed to the ground and were quickly killed by the Scots. The English men-at-arms could not break the relentless rows of pikes. The English Master of the Templars rushed too recklessly on the spear forest, flailing madly with his sword, hoping to break it with animal strength. He and his five retainers were impaled. By this time, Edward and his foot-soldiers had caught up with the knights and called off their rash attacks.

Edward had seen the danger of ultimate disaster and gathered his secret new weapon -- the Welsh longbowmen.

Many young English knights were impaled or, rather, their horses were impaled by the speared schiltrons and hundreds were pulled from their horses and beaten with mace and war hammer to the death.

As the Welsh archers gathered in position, a most curious thing happened. At that very moment, to the bewilderment of Wallace, "Red" John Comyn, a rival of Robert the Bruce, drew off all his vassals (mostly light horse and infantry), and with the utmost deliberation quitted the field.

It appears Wallace had been betrayed in the midst of combat, whether or not this was the work of Edward I is unknown. Wallace, showing no dismay to his men, stood firm, though he now had only about 4,000-5,000 followers to face over 13,000 English heavily armed troops and cavalry.

It couldn't have been worse timing for the Scots and Wallace, for now nothing stood between Edwards deadly arrows and the immovable Scottish schiltrons. It couldn't have been better timing for Edward, to have Red Comyn's men quit the field at this exact moment. This has led to centuries of speculation that Wallace had been intentionally betrayed and that Edward might have had a hand in it. But, there is no substantive proof of this, and since Red Comyn was murdered by the Bruce in 1306, the only man who might know exactly why he left the battlefield was dead and silenced forever. It seems likely that Wallace was betrayed, if not by Edward's own planning, then at least by jealous Scottish nobles, who saw a losing battle and left with their men, leaving Wallace and his loyal peasant army to die alone against the might of Englands power and Edwards vengeance.

The Scottish archers had been removed (killed) from the field by the English cavalry and only Wallace and his infantry were left. He did all a brave man could do to inspire his men, fighting in the front ranks with his large two-handed sword.

Victory and Defeat
The schiltrons had been a successful new tactic employed by Wallace against the English heavy horse attack. Many more English horse knights fell that day than Edward had ever expected. This new tactic, first employed here at Falkirk, not Stirling, was to make a hugh impact on future methods of fighting for both infantry and cavalry. Indeed, a similar process was used, with success, by the Femish Pikemen against the cream of the French chivalry (horse-warriors) in 1302. However, with the apparent betrayal of Red Comyn, and the new English tactic of using the Welsh longbow in mass units to shower dealy arrows at range at the enemy, finally took its toll on the Scots.

With no enemy horse or archers to harry him, Edward's Welsh longbowmen were placed in front of the trapped and immovable Scottish schiltrons. They fired hail after hail of deadly arrows into the standing targets. The stalwart Scots could only take so much. Men fell and gaps appeared in the once formidable spear wall. It was then that Edward sent his knights in among the broken formations. With war hammer, axe, mace and sword, the horse-warriors hacked at the Gaelic underlings.

Again and again the cavalry of the English spurred in furious charges on the Scottish pikes (spears). Stoutly the Scots stood, shoulder to shoulder; and though infantry came up, the showers of cloth-yard shafts were shot point blank into the ranks of Wallace, along with a storm of stones from Irish slings, (they did fight on the English side). The slingers and archers plied their missles securely from a distance, they could not penetrate what one old historian called "that wood of spears". But it was taking its toll on the Scots.

Repeatedly, the English and Welsh archers poured showers of arrows on the Scottish spearmen concentrating on one schiltron at a time. Each formation was quickly reduced to a pile of dead or dying men; then Edward unleashed his cavalry a final time. They rode over the field hacking down the survivors.

Sir William Wallace
All around Wallace, his men fell. Sir John the Grahame of Dundaff, the friend of Wallace, and the young Earl of Fife, with nearly all of their vassals, were slain; and now the survivors, disheartened alike by the fall of their three principle leaders, fell into disorder. Already deserted by their cavalry, most of it riding off with Red Comyn, and, after the destruction of their archers, Scots were left exposed to a pitiless storm of missles from the Welsh Longbow and Irish slings. Scottish infantry, with their long spears leveled over a breastwork of their dead and dying, made a desperate attempt only to keep their ground. But their numbers were thinning fast, and when the English cavalry once more dashed upon them, with lance and sword, axe and mace, it was all over.

The Scots had resisted with the fury of despair, hundreds died beneath the drumming hooves. At last the Guardian was forced to flee whilst his army and hopes died around him. "They fell like blossoms in an orchard when the fruit has ripened," an English chronicler exulted.

Wallace Escapes the Field
Wallace escaped, riding northward to Callander and the mountains. The dead of his valiant army is unknown, although the North-English Lanercost chronicler recorded a preposterous figure of sixty thousand, many more times the total number of men engaged. "Nor was there slain on the English side any noblemen except the Master of Templars, with five or six esquires who charged the schiltrons of the Scots to hotly and rashly." More English horses were killed than men, and Edward paid compensation for more than a hundred lost by his knights. "England exult!" cried the chronicler,

"Berwick, Dunbar and Falkirk too,
"Show all that traitor Scots can do.
"England exult! Thy Prince is peerless,
"Where thee he leadeth, follow fearless."

Retreat of Wallace

William Wallace's great two-handed sword
Sword] Armed with the great two-handed "early" claymore, long and bravely did Wallace maintain the field; and not until the sun was setting did he begin his perilous retreat by crossing the Carron, near the old Roman ruin, where there was a ford when the tide was low. There, at a place called Brian's ford near the Carron Iron Works (in 1897), fell the last Englishmen of distinction (nobility) , Sir Brian le Jay, who, pressing in pursiut, was unhorsed and slain by the hand of Wallace himself. Wallace's own horse, covered with wounds and stuck full of spear-heads and arrows, was only able to bear him across the river, when it sank beneath him and died. He continued to fight his was way on foot towards Perth, accompanied by 300 chosen men.

The estimated number of the Scottish slain is between 6,500-8,000 men, of about 10-12,000 total men (including the men who rode off the field). [Note: Some of the figures of men involved come from Cassells "British land and Sea Battles, 1875"].

Guardianship Of Scotland Changes

William Wallace Resign's Guardianship
Resignation] The Guardianship of Scotland was now taken from Wallace, or resigned by him, and in his place the Scots accepted an uneasy triumvirate of Bishop William Lamberton of St. Andrews, young Robert Bruce of Carrick, and John Comyn the Red, now Lord of Badenoch since the death of his father in England. There is a darkness over Bruce's activities during Wallace brief guardianship, and the romantic notion that he fought with the Scots (or against!) at Falkirk is scarcely credible. In fact there is some evidence to show that Bruce was not at the battle at all. His father held Carlisle for Edward, their lands in England had been distrained for debts owed to the King, and three weeks before the battle Bruce asked protection for some of his men travelling on Edward's service. After Falkirk, however, the English drove Bruce from his lands and burnt them.

Wallace and a few of his supporters managed to escape and seek shelter in the woods of Callander and later Selkirk forest.

Despite his victory at Falkirk, Edward's campaign achieved little, and soon he left Scotland for Carlisle. The spirit of Scottish independence was still very much alive, and Wallace was still at large.

Edward's obsession now turned the Lowlands and the Borders into a devasted killing ground. Among the Scots, William Wallace now returned to his raiding: there would be no active key role for him in the remainder of his life.

What Does a King Do with a Hollow Victory?

Bust of Edward I "Longshanks"
[Bust of Edward I
Longshanks] The arrows of his bowmen had won Edward little. When he reached Stirling he found it a ruin, and the country wasted. He replied by burning St. Andrews, and then retired upon Edinburgh with aching ribs and a hungry and clamorous army. Only in his widely scattered garrisons was an Englishman safe. Between them was a hostile country, black fields and steadings. Edward went home, promising the governors he left that he would come again in the spring to punish the Scots and "put down their disobedience and malice." But he didn't come north again for three years, and in this bitter time Scotland had two governments, the English and the Guardians. The flimsy alliance of the latter was soon broken. One of Edward's agents reported that when they met at Peebles, in August, 1299, Bruce and Comyn quarrelled fiercely over some property left by Wallace, and that in his anger the Red Comyn took Bruce by the throat. Lamberton and Wallace's elder brother, Malcolm, persuaded them to put duty before dignity, but neither forgot the incident. Within a year they quarrelled again, and this time Bruce resigned in disgust. A parliament of lords, meeting in the royal burgh of Rutherglen, replaced him with Ingram de Umfraville, the turncoat Angus earl who had fought for Edward at Berwick and Falkirk. De Umfraville's elastic conscience and dubious motives were perhaps too much for all to stomach, for there appears to have been one Guardian only, the Liddesdale knight Sir John de Soules.

Edward had won the battle but not the war. Though further resistance appeared pointless, Wallace never contemplated surrender and reverted to the life of bandit-cum-guerilla, enough to keep the tiny flame of defiance alive. The English, still hungry, fell back across the Border ravaging as they went. Life degenerated into a bloody saga of raid and counter-raid, terror and atrocity, the Lowlands and most of the Borders laid waste. Abandoned by the fickle nobility, Wallace never succeeded in rebuilding a viable powerbase -- but this is not nearly the end of the story. Wallace would become legend again, in his death an heir to his movement for independence would rise to the fore, in Robert Bruce.

The Lament of Wallace
After the Battle of Falkirk

Thou dark winding Carron, once pleasing to see,
To me thou can'st never give pleasure again;
My brave Caledonians lie low on the lea,
And thy streams are deep-ting'd with the blood of the slain.
Ah! base-hearted treachery has doom'd our undoing,-
My poor bleeding country, what more can I do?
Even valor looks pale o'er the red field of ruin,
And Freedom beholds her best warriors laid low.
Farewell, ye dear partners of peril! farewell!
Though buried ye lie in one wide bloody grave,
Your deeds shall ennoble the place where ye fell,
And your names be enroll'd with the sons of the brave!
But I, a poor outcast, in exile must wander,
Perhaps, like a traitor, ignobly must die!
On thy wrongs, O my country! indignant I ponder-
Ah! woe to the hour when thy Wallace must fly!

Poem by Robert Tannahill

Next: The Battle of Falkirk was lost, but what happened to Scotland and Wallace in the seven years from 1298 to 1305? And a true account of Wallace's execution and his legacy for all time....continued in Pt. 3 of "Battle of Falkirk & the Execution of Wallace".

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